Social / Emotional

Self-Esteem Rollercoaster

They’re still little kids in so many ways. (Don’t tell them that, obviously.) But they’re also starting to approach adolescence—and with that comes changes to their bodies, their brains, and their friendships. You’ll see a huge range of development now, too: Some kids are still their baby selves in mind and body, while others are on their way to tweendom. Building and maintaining their self-esteem is about to become a full-time job (as if you needed one more).

As your kid moves through the elementary years, what kinds of social-emotional development will you likely see? And how can you help them get ready for the rollercoaster years to come?


Their self-esteem is up and down. You might see your previously confident kid become a little more withdrawn or anxious, or become more critical of themselves in new ways. They’ll probably start to care more about what their peers think, too, which might mean more arguments at home over clothes, technology, and independent activities. As parents, our job now (as always) is to think about which battles we want to fight…and where we can give them small wins. Hold the line on safety, of course, but consider where and how you can help them embrace the person they’re becoming, in whatever ways work for your family. Maybe that means supporting their wardrobe choices, following their lead when it comes to choosing extracurricular activities, or letting them redecorate their personal space at home.


They’re developing tighter, more independent friendships. As they start encountering cliques, “best friendships,” and other complicated playground dynamics, they’ll probably also start to feel more anxiety around friends. Even as they’re starting to pull away from you, there are good reasons to stay as close as possible while you can. Ask how they’re doing. Get to know the kids they’re hanging out with (if you can). Meet up with their friends’ families in the park so you can socialize together. Before they go to a new friend’s house without you, consider having a conversation about safety with the other family (here are some good tips on how to ask about firearms in the house). And if your kid is already using a phone or other technology, monitor everything: You should have access to all of their communication at this point. 

(Wondering when to give them a phone? Here are some things to consider.)


They might start having concerns about changing bodies. Those concerns might be about their own bodies (if they’ve started noticing changes) or others’ bodies (if they’re noticing that other kids are changing before they are). Can it be awkward to talk about this stuff with your kid? Maybe, but there’s no time like the present to talk about how all kinds of changes to our bodies are normal and worth celebrating—and knowing what to expect will make all these transitions easier on everyone. If you need help kick-starting the conversation, here are some age-appropriate books about bodies and puberty you might want to check out.

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